The heroic transit workers whose actions likely saved countless New Yorkers during the Sunset Park subway attack were officially honored on Friday, with the city bestowing proclamations declaring April 15, 2022 in their honor.
Mayor Eric Adams, still in quarantine after his COVID-19 diagnosis, remotely honored the seven valorous MTA workers whose quick thinking enabled passengers caught in the crossfire of the attack to hastily evacuate the situation, preventing any casualties in an attack that easily could have been far worse than it already was.
A gunman, identified by police and prosecutors as 62-year-old Frank R. James, detonated smoke grenades and opened fire on a Manhattan-bound N train Tuesday morning as it pulled into the 36th Street station. The gunman fired 33 shots in all before his gun reportedly jammed; 10 people sustained gunshot wounds and about 20 more sustained other injuries.
In the heat of the moment, the conductors and operators on the N train and an R train across the platform scuttled frightened straphangers onto the R train, pulling out of the station before any more carnage could be wrought. Once the train reached the next stop, 25th Street, a B37 bus shuttled passengers further out of harm’s way.
“New Yorkers looked out for each other, and transit workers, as always, looked out for us,” Adams said at a ceremony in honor of the heroes. “When our city was attacked Tuesday morning, you risked real danger to save the lives of everyday New Yorkers.”
Friday’s honorees included R train operator Joseph Franchi, R train conductor Dayron Williams, N train operator David Artis, N train conductor Raven Haynes, R train operator Michael Catalano, R train conductor Willy Sanchez, and B37 bus operator Parla Mejia.
“When bullets were flying, 33 to be exact, you stayed calm, stayed focused, and you saved lives,” Hizzoner said. “Thanks to you, no passenger was left behind, no lives were lost. And thanks to you, our city keeps running every day, day after day.”
Artis in particular was singled out for his heroism. The operator of the besieged N train, he was the first person to alert the outside world of the attack, radioing the MTA’s control center of the situation and notifying cops, he told the Daily News. When the train pulled into the station he began directing riders onto the R train on the opposite track.
“This was an active shooter situation. And conductors and train operators were taking charge once again, doing what was necessary to get riders out of danger,” said TWU Local 100 Secretary-Treasurer Earl Phillips. “At any given minute, they were either directing passengers, making announcements, moving their trains, taking police into the tunnels to look for the shooter, communicating with the rail control center and emergency responders. Our bus operators meanwhile filled the void, packing up riders along the N line, including those rushing out of the 36th Street station.”
Speaking with reporters outside City Hall, Haynes, the other crew member on the N train, said that the calm, like-clockwork heroism of the subway workers was simply a means of preventing the situation from deteriorating further.
“If you’re calm, the passengers are calm,” Haynes said. “You start panicking, you’re gonna cause a frenzy. Which makes a situation that’s bad, become worse.”
James, the alleged perpetrator, most likely slipped onto the evacuating R train with other passengers, as he was captured on CCTV walking out of the 25th Street station minutes later, dressed in all black after evidently dropping his construction worker disguise. He was not captured by police for more than a day; eyewitness footage and card transactions indicate he reentered the system, and he seemingly spent much of his time as a fugitive wandering around Lower Manhattan.
James allegedly called the cops on himself from an East Village McDonald’s before bolting, after seeing his face on the news. He was finally apprehended by cops a little later, after being spotted by eagle-eyed security worker Zack Tahhan. He was arraigned in federal court Thursday on terrorism charges and is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, just blocks from the site of the attack.
Asked about the $50,000 reward that the NYPD promised tipsters, but which Tahhan says he has not received, a police spokesperson said the money had not been disbursed, as tips to Crime Stoppers are confidential. Crime Stoppers says that detectives provide tipsters with a reference number that allows a follow-up with the tipline a week later.